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238                                                                                                             B- POLEVOI
"Comrade Army Surgeon First Rank, you should see
him dance! Better than anybody with two feet!"
"Dance? What the devil!..." exclaimed the surgeon,
looking round at the members of the commission in
Alexei gladly caught up the idea suggested by Zino-
"Don't decide now," he said. "Come to our dance
tonight and see what I can do."
As Alexei walked towards the door he saw the reflec-
tion in the mirror of the members of the commission
talking animatedly to each other.
Before dinner, Zinochka found Alexei in a copse in
the neglected park. She told him that the commission had
continued to discuss him for a long time after he had left
the hall, and that the surgeon had said that Meresyev
was a remarkable lad and that, who knows, perhaps he
really would be able to fly. What couldn't a Russian do?
To this a member of the commission had answered that
there had been no case like it in the history of aviation,
and the surgeon had retorted that lots of things had not
occurred in the history of aviation, and that in this war
Soviet airmen had contributed to it a great deal that
was new.
A farewell dance was arranged to celebrate the return
of the volunteers—about two hundred, as it turned out—
to active service, and it was a grand affair. A military
band was invited from Moscow and the music echoed
like thunder through the halls and passages of the palace,
causing the latticed windows to tremble. The airmen,
sweat pouring down their faces, danced without end, and
the merriest, most agile and vivacious among them was
Meresyev, dancing with his auburn-haired lady. A
matchless couple!
Army Surgeon First Rank Mirovolsky sat at the open
window with a glass of cool beer in front of him, unable
to tear his eyes away from Meresyev and his fiery-haired
partner. He was a surgeon, and an army surgeon at
that, and he knew the difference between artificial and
real feet.
And now, watching the dark, well set up airman lead-
ing his graceful little partner, he could not rid himself